Saturday 19 August 2017

Suspicious item that forced evacuation of Old Trafford 'was a training device left behind in error'

A general view as fans are evacuated from the ground prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and AFC Bournemouth at Old Trafford. (Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images)
A general view as fans are evacuated from the ground prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and AFC Bournemouth at Old Trafford. (Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images)
Police outside the stadium after fans have been evacuated from the stadium as the game is abandoned Action Images via Reuters / Jason Cairnduff
Police use sniffer dogs as fans are evacuated from the stadium as the match is abandoned Action Images via Reuters / Jason Cairnduff
A sniffer dog patrols the stands after fans were evacuated from the ground prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and AFC Bournemouth at Old Trafford (Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images)
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

A suspicious item at Old Trafford which led to Manchester United's final Premier League game of the season being abandoned was a "training device", it has emerged.

Bomb disposal experts carried out a controlled explosion at Old Trafford on a suspicious item described earlier as an "incredibly lifelike explosive device" by Greater Manchester Police.

And tonight, the police said that it was a "training device" accidentally left behind by a private company after a training exercise.

It is understood it was left behind following an exercise involving search dogs who look for explosive, Greater Manchester Police said.

Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward said the club will "investigate the incident to inform future actions and decisions" after the controlled explosion at Old Trafford.

The side's match against Bournemouth was abandoned after the device was discovered in the stadium's North West Quadrant.

Fans are evacuated from the ground prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and AFC Bournemouth at Old Trafford Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images
Fans are evacuated from the ground prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and AFC Bournemouth at Old Trafford Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images

Greater Manchester Police had earlier said in a statement on Twitter: "Bomb disposal experts carried out controlled explosion at Old Trafford on what is described as incredibly lifelike explosive device... Full assessment now concluded and found device wasn't viable. A full search of the stadium is ongoing. Full update to follow."

The Stretford End and Sir Alex Ferguson Stand were evacuated around 20 minutes before the scheduled kick-off of 3pm after an announcement was made for security personnel to invoke "operation red code".

Shortly after 3.15pm those remaining in the 75,000 seater stadium were informed the game was off.

Army bomb disposal experts called in by officers were seen arriving a the ground with a controlled explosion then being carried out, police confirmed at 4.43pm.

Four fire engines were seen at the rear of the Stretford End stand, where stewards were patrolling the car parks as hundreds of staff waited to learn whether they would be allowed back into the stadium.

It is understood that both sets of players were kept in the dressing rooms for around 40 minutes before being taken to a suite, being looked after by security and hospitality staff.

They mingled and watched football on television, mostly departing after Manchester City's match at Swansea finished.

United manager Louis van Gaal and the Bournemouth team coach left Old Trafford at around 5.30pm.

Sam Stride, a United supporter from Bristol, said: "Unbelievable. This is the first time I have been to Old Trafford to see a game. My mate and I have known each other for 63 years and we travelled up from Bristol together. We sat in the Stretford End for about five seconds before they asked us to leave. It's very disappointing."

Billy Ifrose, from Cardiff, said: "I came on a coach from Cardiff. It is the first time I have been to see Manchester United live. It is a beautiful day and I am a bit sad."

Former Manchester United captain Gary Neville wrote on Twitter: "I may be wrong here but I'm not quite sure the enormity of what's happened at OT is registering. Lots still tweeting about meaningless games."

The game was called off after discussions between the Football Association, the Premier League and police.

Assistant Chief Constable John O'Hare said: "We don't make these decisions lightly and we have done this today to ensure the safety of all those attending. I am thankful for everyone's support and assistance and we will continue to provide updates on this matter as soon as they become available."

A Premier League statement said: "The decision to abandon the Manchester United versus AFC Bournemouth match was taken after the police advised of the necessity to deal with a suspect package.

"When it comes to matters of security it is obviously right that Manchester United and the Premier League place the safety of supporters and employees foremost.

"The Premier League will seek to rearrange the fixture as soon as practically possible and will advise fans accordingly. It is always the last resort to abandon one of our fixtures and while we apologise for the inconvenience caused to fans we are sure, in the circumstances, they will appreciate the need to do so."

The Premier League tonight said that the game will be played on Tuesday at 8pm. United are busy next Saturday when they face Crystal Palace in the FA Cup final, after which many of their players will disperse for international duty ahead of Euro 2016.

In January United reportedly beefed up security at Old Trafford in the wake of the terror attack at the Stade de France in Paris.

The alert at Old Trafford came just days after Home Secretary Theresa May announced that MI5 had raised the threat level to Great Britain from Northern Ireland-related terrorism from moderate to substantial - the third most serious category out of five.

Mrs May said on Wednesday the move ''reflects the continuing threat from dissident republican activity''.

The threat level to the UK from international terrorism remains at severe - meaning an attack is ''highly likely''. This has not been changed.

Earlier this week GMP held a mock terrorist operation at Manchester's Trafford Centre which saw a fake suicide bomber shouting "Allahu Akbar" immediately before detonating a bomb.

The overnight operation had been testing the anti-terror police's response to a Paris or Brussels-type attack on civilians but was criticised after footage showed one actor repeatedly shout the religious phrase meaning "God is great".

The Assistant Chief Constable of GMP Garry Shewan issued an apology, calling it ''unacceptable'' to use the phrase - and apologised for any offence caused.

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